It's March and it's so cold outside that you can't believe that you'll actually be gardening in 2 months. Everything is frozen outside but you're dying to get your hands in the dirt and start planting. Now is the perfect time to start planning your garden, but where do you start? What do you plant, and where do you begin? We're here to help give you a little guidance and warm your gardening spirit this month with some helpful tips to get you started.
Where to Grow
If you've never gardened before, the first step is figuring out what space you'll be using to grow your plants. Most vegetables and fruits require at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight every day. Root vegetables like beets and carrots tolerate some shade, but need at least 6 hours of sunlight, while fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and cucumbers require at least 8 hours of sunshine a day. With this info in mind, you'll want to find the sunniest space to grow your plants. If you are planning to garden where you live, this can be in the ground or in containers. But if you're willing to travel a little ways, another option is checking out local community gardens that you could grow in for a small fee.
Why you should buy seeds
I am thrilled to tell you that there are so many benefits to purchasing all of your organic seeds online and growing them yourself. One of the most important benefits is that you will know exactly which chemicals will or will not be used on your plants. When you grow vegetables in your own backyard, you get to decide which pesticides and/or fertilizers, if any, you'll use. We don't use any pesticides organic or otherwise, and we don't use synthetic fertilizer. We feel that not using pesticides in our garden keeps our family and our planet healthy. When you buy a plant from a greenhouse (or a big box store), you have no idea what was used to grow that plant. They could have used any number of dangerous chemicals that can effect or kill pollinators, insects and any organism that touches the plant. Not only that, but you and your family's health is at stake as well.
The other reason that buying organic seeds and planting them yourself is great is because it is a huge money saver. Greenhouse plants may look awesome but they are really expensive. We used to spend a decent amount of money at the greenhouse for plants in our early growing days (and that was just for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants!!!!). Now we spend about half that much on seeds that grow our entire garden and we never have to step foot in the greenhouse for plants.
Where to get your seeds
Once you have figured out where you'll be gardening and how much space you'll have for growing, you can start thinking about what you might want to grow. Our recommendation is to order your organic seeds from a trusted seed company online to get the best organic seed selection for your money. We buy 99% of our seeds from fedcoseeds.com because we love and trust them so much and know that you will too. I admit that I am a bit of a sap, but I cry every year when Fedco's black and white seed catalog finds it's way into our mailbox. You can just feel their goodness, transparency and great ethics on every page. Click here to request a copy of your own, or you can just order on their website.
Fedco Seeds is a small cooperative seed, tree, bulb and organic growing supply company out of Clinton, Maine and have been in business for 41 years. In a world of increasingly larger mergers and consolidations, you'll find such pleasure purchasing seeds from this small worker-consumer cooperative. They have high quality diverse seed offerings at a very fair price. Their honest descriptions even include supplier codes so you know where your seeds are coming from. They refuse to sell genetically engineered products and they do proactive GMO testing of some seed crops. They also boycott Monsanto and Bayer products (Hip hip hooray!!!), and they support organic, ecological, small-scale and local seed production. Seriously I could go on and on about why I love them but I'll save you some time. Trust us you'll love them.
The other two seed companies that we recommend to order organic seeds from are:
1. Seed Savers Exchange is a nonprofit organization that conserves and promotes America's endangered garden and food crop heritage by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. They are located in Decorah, Iowa. Their website is seedsavers.org.
2. High Mowing Organic Seeds is an independently owned, farm based seed company dedicated to providing farmers and gardeners with high quality, non-GMO, certified organic seed. This seed company is located in Wolcott, VT. Their website is highmowingseeds.com
I've ordered my seeds, now what?
There are only a few types of vegetables that cannot be direct sown into your garden and need to be started indoors. These vegetables have a rather long growing season and need the extra time growing indoors to be able to produce fruit for you before your growing season ends. These vegetables are; onions, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Every other vegetable we grow is planted by us by seed at the right time in the garden soil. To figure out how early you should start your seeds indoors, you should first figure out your area's last frost date. You can check that by clicking here. Once you have that date, your seed packets will instruct you on how much in advance from this date you should start your seeds inside.
What you need to start your seeds indoors
You will need a couple of things to get started growing seeds indoors. For the best start for your seedlings, we recommend the following supplies:
1. Organic Seed Starter Mix - we recommend Coast of Maine Organic Sprout Island Blend Seed Starter. It's important to use a loose, well drained mix for indoor seed starting. Sprout Island Blend is a rich mixture of blended Sphagnum peat moss, perlite, kelp meal, worm castings and well aged compost. It was designed specifically for germinating seeds into healthy plants. Sprout Island Blend meets the organic production standard of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. It is also listed for OMRI listed for organic use by the Organic Materials Review Institute. Follow the instructions on the package for best results.
2. Something to grow your seeds in - You need 2 to 3 inch deep containers with drainage holes to hold your seed starting mix. Many people use recycled yogurt cups, or you can buy a simple seed starting tray with cell pack inserts. Some come with a plastic dome that holds in moisture, but covering trays with a sheet of plastic wrap will also work.
3. Growers Light and Growers Heating Pad- Your seedlings will need more light and heat than your home can provide. Most plants need temperatures between 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit for germination and optimal growing. A growers heating mat placed under your seedlings will provide the perfect heat source for them to grow. A light source placed an inch above your seedlings for 12-14 hours a day will provide the perfect lighting conditions needed for growing. Even florescent lights placed at that height would do the trick. Growers lights can be found at your local greenhouse, growers store, or local hardware store. Or click here for a cool one you can buy from Amazon
4. Hardening off - about a week or 2 before your plants are to be transplanted outside, you will need to acclimate them to the outside world. This is known as "hardening off." Plants should be placed outside for small amounts of time at first to get used to the sun's rays and the wind. The first day would be an hour and you would increase little by little each day. Some gardeners have setup oscillating fans near their indoor plants to build up the stem's strength for their future in the outside elements.
When will I start planting outdoors?
The vegetables you'll be planting are generally categorized into cold and warm crops. This basically means that some of your seeds will be direct sown into the ground while it's still cold out while others need to be direct sown after all chance of frost is gone a little later in the season. Cold crops are vegetables that thrive in cold or cool weather. Whereas warm-season crops will usually be killed by frost. Cold crops can be planted before the threat of frost has passed. In our area, that usually means that cold crop seeds can be direct sown in mid-April. Some of these include; arugula, beets, broccoli, carrots, peas, spinach and many other lettuce/greens. Warm crops in our area are usually planted around Memorial Day weekend for things like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans, cucumbers, squash and corn. Be sure to find out your area's average last frost dates to determine when you should plant outdoors. This is the date your seed packets and any other growing instructions will reference when explaining when to get started. Remember this date is an average from past years and not necessarily what is going to happen this year. Stay on top of the 14 day forecast as you approach your planned planting date. For anything that needs to be planted after the last frost date, make sure there are no low temperatures below 40 degrees in the forecast. If there are you'll need to protect your sensitive warm weather crops with row covers or some other way of keeping them warm and free of frost, but probably better to just wait a bit if that's the case.
Want to learn more?
Check out our 4 keys to organic gardening success. Our home garden relies on the following 4 principles. They are all very simple to do and will turn that backyard garden into your own little thriving ecosystem. Follow these methods and everything else pretty much takes care of itself.
Composting Crop Rotation Raised Beds Mulching